Things to Do on Catalina Island

Ocean Recreation: Scuba Diving

Dive Into Some of Southern California's Finest Undersea Sites

Experienced scuba divers consider diving sites in the waters around Catalina Island to be among the best in North America, and with good reason. Though close to the coastal ports of greater Los Angeles, here the ocean is generally calmer, clearer, cleaner, and warmer, all characteristics that optimize the diving experience.

The leeward shore generally remains undisturbed even when waters are churning along the coast of the nearby mainland. Better still, the ocean life and underwater geography along Catalina's shoreline abound in spectacular beauty and variety. Dive sites are also welcomingly accessible, and have been popular–and protected–for so many years that scuba divers can almost certainly count on having a reliably good experience on a visit to Catalina.

Whether you're experienced or completely new to the sport, local dive shops make Catalina scuba diving all the easier for you. They carry a full range of equipment for purchase or rental, as well as providing air tank fills and repair services. They also offer a wide variety of organized scuba diving experiences for experienced and beginning divers alike. The range of dive sites and services will let you delve into the pleasures of scuba diving whether you're making just a brief stop on Catalina or planning a vacation of several days or more.

If time is limited and you want to stay close to Avalon, get any equipment you need from a local dive shop and head straight for Avalon Underwater Park just off Casino Point, a short stroll from the harbor. It is easily accessed from the breakwater via a staircase cut into the rock, making it easy to explore a kelp bed, intriguing rock and coral formations, a monument to undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, and four ships that have been sunken to provide ocean life habitats; there are also organized night dives at this location. Dive shops in Avalon also arrange access via boat, guided experiences, and training for novices at these sites.

If you're staying in one of the boat-in campsites on the island, you'll also find plenty of opportunities for beach-based diving. But some of Avalon's most spectacular dive sites are accessed only by boat, whether it's a craft you own, rent, or charter, or a dive boat trip–complete with lunch, equipment, and supervision–organized by one of the dive shops in Avalon or Two Harbors.

Some of the most spectacular sites include:

  • Church Rock, off the island's southern tip, which includes beautiful coral formations, a kelp bed, underwater caves, and such ocean life as morays, sheephead, calico bass, and lobsters;
  • Goat Harbor, midway between Avalon and Two Harbors, where you may see squid, white sea bass, yellowtail, angel sharks, bat rays, and harbor seals in a setting with excellent visibility featuring an inshore reef, a kelp grotto, and an eastern wall precipitously descending 100 feet;
  • Bird Rock, off of Isthmus Harbor, where you'll probably see plenty of bright orange garibaldi fish and sizeable lobsters in a 120-foot-deep setting that features tall, hypnotically waving kelp and deeper fanlike gorgonians;
  • Farnsworth Bank, a fabled summertime site for advanced divers about 2 miles off the midpoint of Catalina's western shore, featuring a wealth of anemones, scallops, sea stars, corals, and other beautiful invertebrates–as well as blue sharks, yellowtail, barracuda, sea bass, and other fish–in deep waters that can offer up to 100 feet of visibility.

These enthralling options only begin to touch upon the many unique dive sites that surround the island. Whatever your enthusiasms in scuba diving, and regardless of your experience level, you'll find a wealth of opportunities for memorable diving in Catalina.

Diving Catalina
Several outstanding dive shops operate out of both Avalon and Twin Harbors, making it easy for scuba divers, whatever their experience, to enjoy the wonders of Catalina's waters. They offer a complete range of scuba diving equipment for both sale and rental, along with airfills, as well as organizing scuba lessons and scuba tours–including one-, two-, and three-tank dive excursions at one to three different dive sites.

Plan ahead and book your Catalina scuba diving experience well in advance, particularly during the high-traffic summer months. Dive shops also offer extensive, expert training and scuba certification courses for both adults and children. If you're traveling in a group with non-divers, most dive shops allow non-divers to ride along on dive excursions for a reduced fee, giving them the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the island's waters from the comfort of the dive boat.

Time to Allow: Several hours to multiple days.
Reservations are recommended.